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Hot Water Heater Leaking? Diagnose and Repair the Problem

When your hot water tank leaks, whether it be from the top, the bottom or another area of the tank, you’ll want to identify the location of the leak and get it repaired as soon as possible. When a leak is left unfixed, it can cause damage to your property as well as the system itself. Follow the steps below once you realize that your water heater is leaking.

Water Heater Leak Inspection:

Step 1: Turn off the power source of the water heater

If your water heater is run by electricity, turn off the breaker switch supplying the power to your unit. You’ll find this inside of your home’s circuit breaker box. On the other hand, if your hot water heater is gas powered, you’ll want to shut down the gas supply for your unit. Simply locate the gas supply valve. Once you locate it, gently twist it clockwise until it firmly stops and is at a perpendicular position to that of the gas line.

Step 2: Turn off the water source

Once you have the power or the gas turned completely off, then it’s time to turn off the water. Most hot water heaters have a cold water shut-off valve, and generally it’s placed in the same area as where the cold-water inlet pipe attaches to the hot water heater tank. There are two different types of valves. Your hot water heater system will either have a gate valve or a ball valve. With a gate valve, you’ll twist the handle clockwise until it’s snug, and with a ball valve, the handle needs to be pushed until it’s in the same perpendicular position as the pipe. You will usually push it up about 90 degrees.

Step 3: Identify the leak

There are a number of problems that can cause your hot water heater to start leaking, and trying to pinpoint the problem can be quite a challenge. A few of the most common ones include:

It’s important to note that if your water heater is brand new, it’s perfectly normal for the unit to leak a little bit at first. Why might you ask? While a hot water heater remains in storage until its purchased, the insulation on the inside can collect humidity. This humidity is released once the hot water heater starts being used.

Another reason your hot water heater tank might leak could be do to old age. If your unit is more than 10 years old and has heavy corrosion inside and out, leaks can spring from all areas. In this situation, it’s best just to invest in a whole new system.

When you do start to locate the leak, it’s recommended that you begin at the top of your unit and slowly work your way down. This will save you a lot of time and effort when your water heater is leaking.

Once you notice that there’s water on the floor or on top of your hot water heater, you’re going to want to inspect the area to identify whether the leak is coming from the unit itself or from the pipes connected to it. However, while inspecting the area, keep in mind that when it’s extremely cold out, condensation can naturally accumulate from the pipes, the water heater or even a nearby appliance.

The condensation will eventually evaporate away once the water in the tank begins to warm up. If you’re sure without a reasonable doubt that the leaking is coming from your hot water heater, then it’s time to inspect the system starting from top and moving to the bottom.

  • If Your Hot Water Heater Is Leaking from the Top, Click here
  • If Your Hot Water Heater Is Leaking from the Bottom, Click here

The pressure relief valve

Did you know that when water heats up, it creates steam and if that steam if not regulated properly, it could cause your hot water heater tank to explode? However, when working properly, your hot water heater will release a little bit of water down through the overflow pipe to relieve your tank of some of the internal pressure.

Now, if you see water leaking from the temperature and pressure relief valve or the stem of the valve, then it’s more than likely that the valve itself is either broken, cracked or corroded. In any case, you will need to replace your temperature and pressure relief valve. This is not a hard job, and the price for a replacement part is around $10 to 15.

Check out: What to Do When Your Water Heater Pressure Relief Valve Is Leaking

If after you replace the temperature and pressure relief valve, the pressure is still extremely high and you’re still dealing with water heater leakage, you may need an expansion tank. As mentioned before, when water heats up, it expands. If there’s no room in your tank for the water to go as it’s expanding, the pressure on the inside of the tank will increase to an extremely dangerous level and leak water out of the valves in addition to other areas of your hot water tank. By attaching the expansion tank, you’ll give the rising water someplace to go while also decrease the internal temperature.

The inlet and the outlet

The cold-water inlet valve is where your home’s water source enters your hot water heater. The hot water outlet is where your heated water leaves the tank. Overtime, these inlets in addition to the fittings beneath them can become worn and defected creating a seal that’s not air tight. When inspecting these outlets, look for corrosion, cracks and other deformities. If in fact the inlet and the outlet are faulty, then a replacement will be necessary. Replacements for the inlet and the outlet are not very expensive and are also fairly easy to replace. You just want to make sure that before you begin to replace the faulty outlet, you turn off the power or gas in addition to the water.

Cold water shut off valve

This is another problem that can result from corrosion or simply old age. As your cold water shut off valve gets used over the years, and sediment runs through it, the seal around in addition to the valve itself become worn out and begin to leak air. This is not an expensive repair, and all you need is a wrench and a replacement part to fix the cold water shut off valve. Like with the temperature and pressure relief valve, you’ll need to turn off the power or the gas and the water supply before you start your repair.

The drain valve

When your hot water heater is dripping at the bottom or you find a puddle of water on the floor, the problem could be a result of a faulty drain valve. A lot of times when homeowners clean and flush their tank to rid it of the built-up sediment, the drain valve can become unable to be closed due to sediment getting caught in the opening of the valve. Another problem that can cause the drain valve to leak is corrosion. Overtime, these valves will rust and breakdown. You can try and shoot water through the valve, but most generally the solution to this problem is to simply replace the drain valve.

Check out: Replace Your Hot Water Heater Drain Valve with These Easy Steps

Leaking from the bottom of the tank

If your hot water heater is leaking at the bottom, and you’ve already checked the drain valve, then your problem might just be an internal problem. As the years roll on, the sediment that travels through your water heater can break down the thermal on the inside. As the thermal breaks down, small holes can begin to form and water can leak out. When this happens, your hot water heater will need to be fully replaced.

Heating element gaskets

The heating element gaskets are another problem waiting to happen. As your hot water heater tank grows old, these gaskets can become corroded, weak and eventual break. As a result, water can leak from your tank.

The problem with these gaskets is that they’re hard to get to. Not only are they on the inside and located underneath the insulation, you have to remove the access panel to get to them.  It’s important to also note that in order to fix this problem, you will need to invest in a water heater element wrench. This is a unique tool that is designed for this very purpose. You can find it at most home improvement stores.

Check out: Tips for Performing an Effective Hot Water Heater Element Replacement

The anode rod

The anode rod is one of the most important parts of your hot water heater. This rod’s main purpose is to protect the inside of your hot water heater tank from rust and corrosion. It does this through a process called electrolysis in which the rod will corrode and collect rust before the inside of your tank will. When you notice that this rod is in need of being replaced, it’s best to do it as soon as possible. By doing so, you’ll extend the life of your unit and prevent any future possibility of leaking.

Check out: Tips on How to Check the Anode Rod in Your Water Heater

There are three different kinds of anode rods available on the market. They include aluminum, magnesium and zinc. Aluminum is the best choice for against hard water, magnesium is the best choice for homes with soft water and zinc rods are simply aluminum with a very minor amount of zinc added. This added zinc helps decrease the odors associated with the sulfur odors that come from thee water.

Should you repair or replace?

When your water heater is leaking, should you repair or replace? The first thing you want to look at is the age of your unit. Most tank-styled hot water heaters have a lifespan of about 10 years while tankless water heaters on the other hand can last several years after that. When deciding on whether or not repair or replace your unit, there’s several factors you should take into account. First, what’s the age of your hot water heater? If your tank-styled water heater is more than 10 years old or your tankless water heater is more than 15 years old, you may want to consider investing in a new system.

Another aspect you’ll want to look at is the condition of your hot water heater. Open it up and examine the insulation. If your insulation has withered away or is damaged, your tank will probably not have much time left. You also want to look for corrosion as well. Corrosion leads to leaks and other unnecessary problems. So, should you repair or replace your unit?

If your unit is outdated but still in good condition, then a repair might be the right move as long as it’s not an expensive repair. On the other hand, if your hot water heater is in bad condition, then a replacement is probably your best choice.

When it’s time to replace your hot water heater, buy smart

Most hot water heaters on the market today have a lifespan of about 10 years. Once your unit hits that point, you may want to think about replacing it instead of throwing money into repairs. Although the price of buying a whole new unit can seem quite freighting, when you break it down, it’s really not that bad.

The first thing you want to consider is what kind of a system would be best for your household. When compilating this idea, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I want a tank or tankless hot water heater?
  • Which would be a better form of power for my needs, gas, electric or even solar?
  • How big does the water heater tank need to be to accommodate to my family? Should I choose a 40, 50, or 75-gallon reservoir?

It’s important that you get all these details worked out before hand, so you can effectively estimate how much a new unit will cost. The average price to replace your hot water heater is anywhere from $800 to $6,000. This includes the labor as well.

The wide gap between these two figures is based on the style, brand, size and the performance of the unit. Typically, tankless water heaters tend to be the most expensive on the market where as gas and electric are available for a cheaper price.

If you’re concerned about being energy efficient, then choosing a tankless water heater is definitely a better choice for your household. Although they are more expensive to have repaired, energy efficient products can help you lower your monthly electricity bills. Now, who doesn’t want to keep more cash in their wallet?

If you’re truly committed to being environmental friendly, you can also invest in a solar powered hot water heater. Solar powered hot water heaters cost anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 and sometimes even more. This does not include labor and installation fees.

Here in the United States, our solar powered water heaters generally use vacuum solar tubes. These tubes take the heat from the unit itself to inside of your home where it’ll heat the water. When the evening arrives, your hot water heater will use an auxiliary electric heating element to increase the temperature of the water in the reservoir.

Tankless water heaters vs tank water heaters

Like already mentioned, a tankless water heat is more energy efficient than your tank-styled units. In fact, you have more control of your water usage. To add to this, tankless water heaters tend to have a lifespan of at least 8 to 10 years more than a tank-styled unit. The only negative side to tankless water heaters is the price tag and the expensive installation and repair costs.

Electric-powered units vs gas-powered units

When it comes to installation and material rates, both of these options are nearly the same. However, when it comes to energy usage, these two water heaters are a little bit different. In fact, the cost to operate a gas-powered water heater tends to cost anywhere between 30 to 50 percent less than electric-powered water heaters. If your home doesn’t use gas, then the obvious choice is an electric unit.

The water capacity vs. the size of the unit

Trying to determine how big of a hot water heater your household needs can be a little difficult sometimes, and it is a very important part of the decision process. Purchasing a tank that’s too big will heat up more water than your family needs. As a result, your monthly electricity bills will be more than they need to be. On the other end of the spectrum, purchasing a hot water heater that’s too small for your household will cause a deficiency in hot water and a lot of unhappy people in your home. Use the chart below to help you choose the right unit for your household’s hot water needs.

Number in household Number of gallons held by the unit
1 to 2 members 40-gallon unit
4 members 50-gallon unit
5 or more members 60 to 80-gallon units

Like mentioned above, the price to have a tankless water heater installed in comparison to a tank-styled water heater is a lot more. The price can even be thousands of dollars more. For homeowners that are on a budget, a tank-styled unit is the better choice. However, it’s also important to take into consideration that tankless water heaters have a lot longer lifespan than tank-styled units. This will save you money in the long run.

Lengthen the life of your hot water heater

When you do decide to invest in a brand new hot water heater, it’s essential that you take good care of your unit. To do this, there’s two main things you want to do on an annual basis. First, flush out your tank and rid the reservoir of the built-up sediment. As sediment settles on the bottom of your tank, it can clog, corrode and damage the drain valve in addition to other areas of your tank.

The second thing you should do to ensure your tank last for years to come is inspect and replace the anode bar. As described above, the anode bar protects the inside of your tank from corrosion and rust. The price to replace this part is not too expensive, and it’ll keep you from screaming, “Why is my hot water heater leaking?” every 2 to 4 years.

Kevin L. Sharp